That's the question I was asked today.
As some of you will know, I've finished my degree studies and am using some of my time before my next venture in a productive and local way.
The answer to why we need a CIL or Centre for Independent Living is that there is no officially recognised disabled people led organisation which is providing an effective voice for disabled people in Merton and we need that (not that I know of at this point). We need an effective peer support organisation around issues of Independent Living, a CIL provides a new opportunity to have that focus and for disability issues to be listened to on our terms.
There are gaps in support services which are responsive to independent living that can campaign and lobby for equality and better participation in society locally that is led & controlled by disabled people. Nationally, where CILs have been successful services have improved and been closer to what disabled people want, because disabled people have led them themselves. There is a gap in supporting disabled people in a way that doesn't split us into catagories or that tries to fit us into boxes.
In a nutshell, disabled people who want to live independently with control over their lives want a peer support organisation that is resourced to encourage social change and full inclusion in our communities and that understands what is needed to achieve independent living at a level that we can choose and control.
There are lots of organisations doing some good work but they rightly have a focus on their particular interest group. Undoubtedly they are important to supporting disabled people to take control of their own destiny and a CIL will need to work in partnership to fill the gaps that do exist. So it's about collaboration rather than competition, choices rather than this or that.
Unfortunately, discussions about the new CIL have been drawn into a context of cut backs and reductions in other social services. A CIL must be about adding to choice and filling some of the gaps around supporting independent living that reflects a social model of disability. It is not a replacement day centre or any other type of replacment centre. In fact, until disabled people get together and decide locally, we only have our own thoughts and assumptions and examples from other CIL's as to what our CIl will be or do!
What a local CIL is and does must be decided by disabled people locally and should be very different from traditional services, thats where the gap is. If it replecates any other service already in place it will not be achieving it's purposes and will be the same old same old. A new CIL is a different discussion from what is happening in terms of current reviews and cut backs in existing services. A CIL cannot be seen as a replacement or a cheap option. It is only when a cIL is working that it can demonstrate it's value and people can make a choice for themselves, but it cannot be limited by assumptions and limitations even before it gets started.
I do support the proposal for a disabled people led CIL, as I've experienced and hear from Disabled People every day about the gaps and barriers we face in achieving a decent level of independent living and also the ability to make choices and have control over what's important to us. All of this is essential to our ability to participate fully in our community.
In the past couple of months I've talked with perhaps 50 to 60 disabled people about issues around developing CILs both locally and nationally, some for and some against, and the key message has been to get it [the CIL] done properly with adequate and varied funding and infrastructure and sustainability and secondly that it needs to be developed on our terms.
A CIL is about providing a different or alternative choice for people, not forcing them to have a CIL instead of something else. It is also not about grouping us together because f some imposed label. We are individuals who share common experiences that can bring us together, but just as important is our lives in relation to all people, friends and communities. We are not just all about disability. How effective a local CIL is, is dependent on how well Disabled People get involved in partnership to make it work, adequate funding and capacity and how inclusive it becomes as a user-led organisation. As a disabled person I value having control over my life, what I do & how I do it. Direct Payments has put me in control and a CIL would help to ensure more disabled people have the support and opportunity to have more control over their lives.
I'm old enough now to know that it won't be the answer to all our prayers but it will be a massive leap in the right direction towards disabled people being heard and valued in our local community. There is of course an important role for non-disabled allies and organisations to collaborate and share with us the journey, so it is up to us all to make it work.